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The High Cost of Multitasking (Infographic)

January 21, 2014 by

There is a war for our attention … and we are losing. Mounting research suggests we are being driven to a state of near-constant distraction by an onslaught of message notifications and the overwhelming temptation to multitask in the always-on, connected world.

At work, consider how often an email, text, instant message or social message (Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, etc.) hijacks your attention, and how frequently you multitask. You don’t even need to be actively using a device to be distracted – the auditory ping or blinking light indicating a new message is all it takes to lure your attention away. The question is, what is the individual and collective impact of our distraction?

Multitasking used to be touted as a skill to hone for personal productivity. However, studies show it has the opposite effect. According to John Medina, developmental biologist and author of Brain Rules, our brains are not conditioned for multitasking and it actually slows us down and increases errors by as much as 50 percent.(1) Other studies found it can increase stress and temporarily lower IQ, affecting our cognitive abilities as much as missing a night’s sleep or greater than the effect of smoking marijuana.(2) Considered in totality, one study estimates the negative impacts of multitasking cost the global economy as much as $450 billion annually!(3)

Given we multitask just about everywhere, Fuze commissioned a survey to explore the extent of multitasking during meetings. With responses from more than 2,000 information workers, the survey confirms we are habitually distracted: • 92 percent of our survey respondents confessed to multitasking during meetings • 41 percent admitted to multitasking “often” or “all the time”

Considering the amount of time we spend in meetings – 52 percent of survey respondents spend 1-3 hours in meetings weekly and 34 percent spend between 4 and 10 hours in meetings every week – we are wasting a lot of time by simply not focusing on the tasks and conversations at hand. But, our distraction is not entirely voluntary or even conscious. Our attention is under siege and we are merely reacting, like Pavlov’s dogs, to the call of a new message or other tasks. In fact, according to a major mobile carrier, the average person checks their smartphone approximately 150 times per day.(4)

Suggestions for reducing distractions include “unplugging” from connected devices for periods of time and scheduling our days to focus on one activity at a time. Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness at Work, describes the challenge as retraining ourselves to become “unitaskers in a multitasking world.”(5) For meetings, some teams go as far as banning phones and laptops to discourage multitasking.

Multitasking varies dramatically by meeting type. According to our survey, people tend to multitask more during phone calls (57%) and web conferences (23%) and less during in-person meetings (16%). Survey respondents were least likely to multitask during video conferences (4%). They also tend to do more preparation for video meetings.

This aligns with feedback from customers, who tell us that improved meeting effectiveness, better participant engagement, and faster decision-making are key benefits of using Fuze. These benefits are also documented in studies by research firms such as Wainhouse (6).

The war for our attention will not end anytime soon. As technology continues to rapidly evolve, it’s clear that the frequency of distraction and opportunity to multitask will only increase. Employers must recognize this as a significant productivity issue and arm employees with strategies and tools that help workers stay focused. Interactive video communications is proven to help bring better engagement to meetings and now there are cost-effective tools like Fuze to bring that experience to all knowledge workers and any device. Try it with your teams today for free (http://www.fuze.com) and bring better focus and engagement to your meetings.

The high cost of multitasking infographic

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